Just before Christmas I went to see David Tennant in the play Good, a play that tracks a Goethe-reading, free-thinking, and friendly literature lecturer’s demise into a Nazi propagandist. Once war breaks out he slips further into to a role within a concentration camp, confirming his status as ‘not good.’
The play was wonderful and offered gutsy philosophical reflections at every turn, but the most interesting thing for me was the story’s exploration of morality. It used generalized statements to exemplify the relatively simple journey from ‘good’ to ‘not good.’
Tennant’s character, John Halder, takes this journey over the course of 3 key plotlines: his frustration with his dying mother leading to his support for euthanasia, joining the Nazi party in reaction to a conversation with his father-in-law, and his infidelity and detachment from family.
Each of the plotlines begins with a moment of resentment being articulated. Eventually his article on euthanasia is used by the Nazis to justify their actions and the conversation with his father comes from a struggle for status and fear of the regime. At each turn, the ‘good’ man allows darkness to build up, rather than dissipate.
Similarly, we can open the door to sin in moments of frustration, justifying our actions rather than humbling ourselves in the face of difficulty. In the case of John Halder, what could be channelled into art becomes crude propaganda.
An image that struck me is that by the end of the play, Halder and his new wife have taken over the summer house of his Jewish lecturer friend, profiting directly from the persecution and blind to its evil.
As modern-day Catholics, we have to realise that we are not detached from the world. If we fail to participate in defending principles such as protection of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage and family values more generally, we can allow darkness to build up, just like John Halder.
Weirdly, the experience of going to see what is quite a depressing play in a packed-out theatre was one of hope. It gave me hope to realise that a story of an average person being seduced by evil can still resonate with the theatre-going audiences of central London. The desire for good is still present in society. The good God we believe in is still alive and present whether the people of London know it or not!
Ben is a founding trustee of Catholic Student Network. He also volunteers for theASCENT as a mentor for young people. Professionally, he works in Central London managing projects involving the laying of submarine fibre-optic cables, after graduating from the University of Sheffield. Get in touch with Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the Catholic Student Network, go to https://www.catholicstudentnetwork.co.uk/
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